Memes, Genes, and Soybeans
Exploring Copyright and Intellectual Property Through Fiction
"I understand the word meme, to the extent that I understand it at all, in terms of Tlön's viral message, its initial vector a few mysteriously extra pages in an otherwise seemingly ordinary volume of a less than stellar encyclopedia."
— William Gibson, SF writer and originator of cyberpunk
"Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other."
— Paulo Freire, influential Brazilian educator
"It is not possible to read without writing or to write without reading."
— also Paulo Freire
The issue of intellectual property and piracy pervades much of our contemporary lives. It makes its way into such different areas as memes, "academic integrity" and "plagiarism" at the university, FBI warnings shown at the beginning of every film screening, Trump's trade war with China, "open source" software, and patenting of genes. In this course we will begin exploring this complex topic by reading, watching, and listening to works of fiction and nonfiction related to these various aspects, and then writing about that.
Please purchase a physical copy of the following book so we can easily reference specific passages in class. It will be available through the University Bookstore and other booksellers.
In addition to the above, we will read some selection of the following texts, among others. They will all be available online or on Canvas.
- Walter Benjamin, "Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (1936)
- Jorge Luis Borges, "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" (1940)
- Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (1976), excerpts
- Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture (2004), excerpts
- Jonathan Lethem, "The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism" (2007)